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July 21, 2011

2

Is this brutal heat the new norm?

by Geoff Grant

It’s 97 degrees outside today in New York, but with the heat index, it feels like 107. And tomorrow’s forecast is even more brutal with a base temperature of 101 predicted. With all the talk of global warming, the question is, is this the new norm?

Of course, the East Coast is just now starting to feel the effects of a heat wave that has been blistering the central part of the country. Our son and daughter, who both live in Oklahoma, have been bemoaning the triple-digit temps for weeks now. According to the National Weather Service, heat-related causes have already claimed the lives of more than 20 people, and on Tuesday alone, 17 states reached 100 degrees. Unfortunately, those numbers are likely to climb as heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the U.S.

As the temperatures have risen, so have the number of conversations surrounding climate change. That’s not really new as people often confuse the day-to-day fluctuations of the weather outside their window with the broader, long-range concept of climate. And because for years climate change was conflated with global warming, spikes in heat seem to make it easier for people to conceptualize. But is it really that simple, that the earth is warming and we’re hotter? And is it a permanent trend?

According to studies done recently by Stanford University scientists, the answer is yes, and soon. The phrase you’ll likely here a lot over the next few years is “permanent extreme heat emergence.” Or what I like to call the new norm.

The climate study by those Stanford scientists showed that a large swath of the Northern Hemisphere and other parts of the world will suffer an irreversible rise in summer temperatures — as early as 20 years from now — if greenhouse gases continue to rise unabated.

“According to our projections, large areas of the globe are likely to warm up so quickly that, by the middle of this century, even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the past 50 years,” said the study’s lead author, Noah Diffenbaugh.

“Permanent extreme heat emergence” was predicted not just for the U.S. over the course of the next 20 to 60 years, but for regions in Europe, China, South America, Africa and Asia. And with that new norm come all the associated consequences: From loss of human life and the impact on our ecosystem to climate chaos, and food security, which looms as the next big global conversation. Food prices will continue to rise as the population continues to increase and the food supply continues to diminish.

It’s hot now, but the heat — both real and political — is only getting started.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Michael
    Jul 22 2011

    The Stanford scientists also applied their study to the California wine industry – http://news.stanford.edu/news/2011/june/wines-global-warming-063011.html

    I’ve heard (though I don’t have a proper source) that wineries are already buying up land in cooler areas so that they’ll be able to continue producing the same grapes as everything warms up. It’s easy to see the same pattern happening across other crops in the near future if it isn’t happening already.

    Reply
  2. Jul 22 2011

    Michael,

    Good note on the California wine industry. I believe the NYT recently had a story on wineries in Europe addressing that very issue. How some of the famous labels in revered regions will wither on the vine, if you pardon the pun.

    Agriculture aside, I’ll tell you another industry that has been gearing up for climate change: Insurance companies. It’s not waiting for this faux U.S.-only debate to settle one way or the other. It’s already jacking up the prices for homeowners living on the coasts, in hurricane belts, flood zones, for farmers, etc., all based on scientists’ climate projections for the future.

    Thanks again for sharing.

    G

    Reply

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